Meeting Maximization

I congratulate everyone who has hopped aboard the productivity train with my recent blog posts. Last week we remodeled our calendars. I’m sure you’re left with more meetings than you’d like. So, this week I offer some perspectives on how to make the most of the meetings that remain.

I’ll skip many of the obvious recommendations you’ve seen before – have an agenda, start and end on time, have a dedicated scribe… see last week’s post for some advice on making sure you limit your meeting to the essential participants by publishing clear outcomes for those who only need to be informed.

My first tip may feel tactical, but it’s the most important. If every person and every company embraced this tip, it would change the game for our well-being. Shorten your meetings. Choose 25 minutes instead of 30. 50 minutes instead of 60. If you’ve ever scheduled time with me you know I embrace this. You can enable this feature in Microsoft Outlook and in Google Calendar. If you do nothing else today, please enable this feature. Tell your boss. Tell your colleagues. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Let’s change the world, one shortened meeting at a time.

My second suggestion may be controversial. Stop recording your virtual meetings. There are circumstances where recording the meeting can be very beneficial. There are cases where it’s a bad idea – there are some people who shut down and don’t engage in productive conflict when they know what they say can be scrutinized and dissected. The main reason I advocate for ditching the recording is this – too many people ask for a recording because of their FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). They don’t have time to attend the meeting, but they still want to watch the meeting because of FOMO. If you don’t have the time to attend, you don’t have the time to watch it later. The most egregious example I see is when someone asks for meetings to be recorded because they are on vacation. They are going to miss 40 hours of meetings because of vacation, then spend 80 hours the following week attending that week’s meetings and trying to catch up on what they missed. Please, ask a trusted friend to capture the highlights for you and tell you what you missed. Enjoy your vacation.

Perhaps the most liberating change for me was a shift in my attitude. I used to resent meetings because I felt they were a waste of my time. I wanted the meeting to end so I could focus on “productive work.” Once you’ve cleared your calendar of the meetings that are a waste of your time, what remains should be meetings where you accomplish “productive work” in the meeting. Try that pivot the next time you are going into a meeting you aren’t looking forward to. What’s the productive work you will accomplish because of the meeting? How can you ensure you get that result from the meeting?

Note – I had one colleague who took this strategy to an extreme and would hijack meetings to accomplish his productive work even if it wasn’t the intent of the meeting. A good agenda and meeting facilitator can nip this in the bud.

If you want to dive deeper on how to get the most out of your meetings, consider the framework put forth by Patrick Lencioni. He explains it in detail in Death by Meeting, however I think you get the meat of it from The Advantage, which is an excellent overview of most of his works. This is the same author who wrote the classic leadership fable The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He describes a problem of “Meeting Stew”, which is typically what we get in our weekly staff meetings, where we throw in every topic under the sun in a single 50-minute meeting. He advocates for four distinct types of meetings:

  • The Daily Check-In – 10 minutes or less, to sync quick and clear up any administrative items like issue alerts or scheduling. No issue resolution or formal agendas. If you can get your team to buy-in to this, and keep it to under 10 minutes, I think you’ll be amazed with the results.
  • The Weekly Tactical – This is your staff meeting. He recommends a lightning round up front to align on what each person is working on, a review of key metrics, and then a real-time agenda based on issues uncovered in the lightning round or metrics that are off track. Anyone who reported to me recently knows this format well. I love it. 
  • The Monthly Strategic – Once a month or ad-hoc as needed, you bring the team together for strategic work on a key priority. This is the kind of meeting where productive work gets done. When I was asked to lead Quality Assurance, with two brand new managers, we had a lot of ideas about where we wanted to improve. We put a fortnightly strategic meeting in place, where we met in the basement of Building 2, where no one could find us, brought snacks, and limited our 2–3-hour agenda to two strategic topics each meeting.
  • The Quarterly Offsite Review – The key to making a quarterly offsite effective is making sure you don’t cover the same agenda topics you’d cover in the other meetings. In the offsite, you need to get up in the balcony and see the forest from the trees. Here you should be revisiting strategy and top-level objectives. Looking at industry trends.  Assessing the competition. Lencioni argues that the timing of these should be non-negotiable. You need one every quarter. If they are engineered well, they can be the lifeblood of the business.

If these strategies resonate with you and you want to dig deeper, consider my Productivity Mastery service.

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